High-Quality Emergency Operations Planning (EOP)

2.3 Strategic, Tactical, and Operational Considerations

It is vital to the safety of staff, students, and visitors and to the education mission of the district that everyone is aware of what to do in an emergency. Empowering staff to act is essential for a quality, timely response to threats or hazards. The most common pitfall in the development of emergency operations plans is the creation of lengthy, overly-detailed plans that are placed on a shelf and never read.

A plan that is written to address every conceivable situation or delineates every response action step most often leads to frustration and rejection by those who are tasked to follow it. An integrated approach to school emergency planning opens the door for overriding principles to be supported vertically and horizontally, giving rise to an effective and higher quality response and recovery from actual incidents.

The relationship between strategic, operational and tactical planning is significant. Strategic planning sets the overriding guidance and context for operational planning. Operational planning identifies the goals and objectives used to drive tactical planning which, in turn, is used to ensure management of personnel, equipment and resources that play a direct role in the protection of people, property and the surrounding environment.

Good planning processes result in full knowledge and acceptance of the plan by all participants. Creating a strategic framework that is feasible and achievable for the identified threats and/or hazards will help you to develop concise operation guidelines which then result in a collaborative and effective response to actual incidents by district and campus staff. Such a plan usually leads to district-level confidence in emergency management. Built during higher level planning, support for tactical plans would provide the necessary skills and equipment for the protection of people, property and the surrounding environment.

Differentiating Between Strategic, Operational, and Tactical Planning

Strategic Planning is the foundation of the emergency management process and the crossroads between policy and procedure. It does not end at board policy but is completed within the framework of the overall emergency management program of the district. Keep in mind that strategic planning always stays at the district-level. During strategic planning, the overriding principles of how the district will respond in an emergency are determined.

This type of planning identifies and outlines district and local jurisdictional responsibilities. Building and supporting of the district’s multi-hazard EOP is the result of strategic planning. In more general terms, strategic planning:

  • Outlines district and local jurisdictional responsibilities
  • Results in alignment with emergency concepts and policies
  • Is driven by guidance from senior leaders and established planning priorities
  • Details emergency management responsibilities over the long-term, including emergency and non-emergency tasks for key district decision-makers
  • Ensures collaboration with stakeholders and community partners by allowing for an overview of emergency concepts and polices
  • Results in formalized agreements with external response partners
  • Sets the context for operational planning

Operational planning is concerned with direction and control of district personnel and resources during an incident response as well as relationships with local responders. This type of planning includes assigning scope to the district’s strategies by developing goals and objectives. Other critical outcomes of operational planning include assignment of response roles and responsibilities to key district emergency response staff and assigning specific district resources for use during the initial response.

The development of functional annexes and hazard-specific annexes occurs during operational planning. Functional and hazard-specific annexes define the actions and roles necessary to provide a coordinated response within the jurisdiction or local government agency, provide guidance as to the general concept of potential emergency assignments before, during, and following emergency situations, and provide a systematic integration of emergency resources when activated. Generally, operational planning:

  • Addresses direction and control of district personnel and resources during an incident response
  • Identifies roles, responsibilities, tasks and actions for school officials and/or campus staff by job title rather than by a person’s name
  • Results in functional and hazard-specific annexes
  • Results in integration of response actions with outside support organizations (local, regional, state) during an incident response
  • Provides the framework for tactical planning at campuses and district facilities

Tactical planning is concerned with the development of safe and effective procedures for carrying out protective measures. This is the planning with which most emergency management and emergency response groups are familiar. During tactical planning, the focus is on developing the actual response action plans, including standard operating procedures for both key district staff and individual campus response groups.

Keep in mind there is no easy way to tactically plan for future, unknown emergencies. In most emergency management and emergency response groups, tactical goals are designed to protect people, property and the surrounding environment – in that order. Typically, tactical planning:

  • Involves developing processes that protect people, property, and the surrounding environment – in that order
  • Results in specific response action plan(s) which use the fewest number of protective measures to achieve the goals and objectives set beforehand
  • Focuses on site management of personnel, equipment and resources that play a direct role in an incident response

To learn more about protective measures, view this video from the Texas School Safety Center:

Video | 5:36